Your guide to the Irish holiday season

Nollaig shona duit! That’s how we say Merry Christmas in Irish Gaelic. It’s a great phrase to learn before your trip to the island of Ireland at Christmas time as you’ll find that people here really get into the holiday spirit, whether that’s through visiting Christmas markets, going Christmas shopping, or practicing local holiday traditions. 

You won’t want to miss our Christmas markets. They are full of twinkling fairy lights, Santa hats and nostalgic aromas of gingerbread. The Belfast Christmas Market takes place at Belfast City Hall where over 100 stalls offer a mixture of handcrafted goods, artisanal produce and tasty treats. Similarly, the Galway Christmas Market brings festive cheer with over 50 stalls, snacks and choirs enlivening Eyre Square. Take a ride on the big wheel in Galway to appreciate the Christmas lights! 

Dublin city’s major Christmas market takes place at the impressive Dublin Castle. Expect stalls, rides and other festivities in this Christmas-tree-lined courtyard. The general atmosphere across Dublin is very festive at this time and you’ll find smaller Christmas markets in many of the suburbs, as well as attractions such as Dundrum on Ice and Grafton Street with its sparkling lights, carol-singing buskers and fabulous designer shops where the perfect Christmas gift awaits you. 

This leads us to Christmas shopping. Designer shopping villages are a great option if you’re looking for a particularly special gift from the island of Ireland. Kildare Village in County Kildare boasts over 100 designer and fashion shops including Irish names such as Avoca and Christmas by Kilkenny Design. Visit Northern Ireland’s shopping villages: The Linen Green in County Tyrone offers many big local brands including Bedeck and Storey. 

Food shopping is also an important aspect of Christmas. Head to Cork’s English Market to pick up a cheese board or other foodie treats ahead of the big day. Why not try spiced beef – a traditional Cork household Christmas favorite also available at the market? 

Our next Christmas tradition is refreshing, invigorating and involves getting into the sea in December! Across the island, people don their swimming gear and go for a Christmas Day sea swim. A favored spot for this is The Forty Foot on Dublin’s coast. It’s so popular that it was even featured in the hit television series Bad Sisters. 

It’s also tradition to visit a cozy pub at Christmas, where a roaring fire, traditional music and a warming drink await. Pubs to check out include The Duke of York in Belfast, which has the largest selection of Irish whiskey in Ireland; The Dungloe Bar in Derry~Londonderry , established in 1892 and a great spot for music; and the Hole in the Wall in Dublin where you can see the most incredible Christmas decorations. Why not try an Irish coffee while you’re there? It’ll warm you up in the chilly weather, and the locals are drinking them! Ask for it to be made with whiskey from one of Ireland’s top distillers, such as Bushmills or Jameson. 

The Belfast Christmas Market at Belfast City Hall, County Antrim. © Tourism Ireland
The Belfast Christmas Market at Belfast City Hall, County Antrim. © Tourism Ireland

Things to consider before traveling

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Some tips to consider while traveling

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